MONSIGNOR ARCHIBALD McSPARRAN
Archibald McSparran was born at Harbour Place, Ardrossan on 24 August 1882. His parents were Archibald McSparran, a shipmaster and his wife Mary McGarry.
Archibald was educated at Saint Mary’s School, Saltcoats, Saint Mungo's Academy, Glasgow, Saint Mary’s College, Blairs, Aberdeen and Saint Peter’s College, Bearsden.
In 1890, when Archibald was only eight years old, his father and brother Neil lost their lives when their ship, the Elizabeth Roy, sank off Tory Island, County Donegal, Ireland on a voyage from Galway to Ardrossan.
Archibald was ordained by Archbishop John Aloysius Maguire in Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow on 24 June 1908. He served at Saint Patrick’s Church, Dumbarton from 1908 to 1927; at Saint Patrick’s Church, Strathaven from 1927 to 1930; at Holy Cross Church, Croy from 1930 to 1933 and at Saint John’s Church, Glasgow from 1933 to 1946.
While in Croy, he was largely instrumental in getting the 'Tarry Rows' removed and modern houses erected. McSparran Road in Croy is named after him. Incidentally, our parishioner Mary Carrick once lived in that street.
He became Parish Priest of the Church of Saint Peter in Chains in 1946. It is very rare for a native of a town to become its Parish Priest.
He was elevated to Domestic Prelate in 1947 and assumed the title of Monsignor.
Monsignor McSparran died in the Presbytery at 9 South Crescent, Ardrossan on 10 March 1950. He is buried in Ardrossan Cemetery. Monsignor McSparran’s place of birth, his Church and his place of death spanned no more than half a mile.
The left photograph above was taken in about 1910 and the right photograph in 1947.
The obituary below is from the Scottish Catholic Directory, 1951.
The Right Rev. Mgr. Archibald McSparran, Parish Priest of Ardrossan died at the Presbytery of St. Peter in Chains on the 10th March, 1950.
Those who knew the Monsignor well looked upon it as a happy coincidence that he should die on the Feast of Blessed John Ogilvie, Scotland's heroic priest who defended in martyrdom the Catholic Faith in the Supremacy of the Pope - because Fr. McSparran's whole priestly life was consecrated to carrying down to ordinary working men the Pope's teaching on Social Justice and applying that teaching to modern industrialism with all its inherent evils. From start to finish this apostolate inspired and sustained his sense of values and tireless activity. His banner, scroll, and device was always "We follow the Pope." He was 68 when he died; almost 48 years a priest, known to so many and now he is mourned deeply and fondly remembered by all who had the good fortune to share in any way his kind, cheery, and solid personality.
Archibald McSparran was born in Ardrossan on the 22nd August, 1882. His parents came from County Antrim. As a boy, at the local school, and later at St. Mungo's Academy, Glasgow, already he wanted to be a priest and so in 1897 he entered Blairs College, Aberdeen. The Blairentian way of life captured his young heart and suited his straight-forward healthy temperament and evoked a love and gratitude remaining deep and fresh all his life. In 1901 he was sent to St. Peter's College, Bearsden, where he spent seven years of earnest study, good companionship and revered admiration for his superiors. On the 24th June, 1908, he was ordained priest by the late Archbishop Maguire at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow. That same year he received his first appointment as Curate at St. Patrick's, Dumbarton.
"Staggering" he used to say recalling his first reactions to actual parish work in Clydeside during the years of depression and unemployment. "Awful, not a ghost of a chance." He had come face to face with the moral near impossibility of living a Christian life under very unchristian conditions. Straightway he met and accepted a challenge which was to dominate his life-long labours as a priest.
The squalor, misery, consequent illness to which his Irish shipyard workers and their families were condemned, in their wretched tenement homes, the bitter discontent provoked by social injustice and fanned by evil agitators aroused at once his indignation and his sympathy. To redress these evils, to protect and lead his people he gathered a few fellow priests with experience and sentiments similar to his own. Taking the great Papal encyclicals on social questions as their textbook they set themselves at great sacrifice of leisure to study exhaustively this authentic Catholic teaching and then, fully informed and resolute, they tackled the more difficult task of interesting and educating ordinary workmen in those academic but very practical principles. The men came and listened and they returned in thousands eager to learn, willing to follow. The Catholic Social Guild, the Catholic Evidence Guild and many handicraft Guilds were started. By study circles and lectures, by parish meetings and debates and by their own printing press they formed an educated and eager corps of reliable and enthusiastic lay men from every profession, trade or industry.
Thereafter came public debates, open discussions to which were invited as principal speakers those great Catholic leaders of the day - Chesterton, Belloc, and Eric Gill - and as audience all Clydeside workers whatever their status or label.
These were lively years, heavy in responsibility, personal presence and intervention. The opposition was vigorous, indignant and rowdy. Socialism then theoretic, and the Labour Party just appearing were feeling out and down to the working masses and anything might have led away ill-informed Catholics. But being enrolled in their own Guilds and present when the fight was on, they rejoiced to see their champions impress and rout the opposition's fallacies and thus was resisted at its beginning a tide that could have swept many to later Communism.
The great good thus achieved canalised the ever-increasing Catholic weight and influence in later Labour movements and many non-Catholic Trade Unionists acknowledged their debt to Catholic principles. For nineteen years, Fr. McSparran gave himself no rest in instilling into his men self-respect, self assurance, fidelity to each other, and how many he quietly led to find for themselves a new understanding of their responsibilities and opportunities, as workers and leaders.
Sorry indeed were his numerous friends and followers when in the year 1927 His Archbishop promoted him to be Priest-in-Charge of the Mission at Strathaven. Their farewell address of admiration and affection gave eloquent testimony of his great influence over them and his labours for their security and well-being. He was changed from Strathaven to Croy in the year 1930. Here he strove with vigour and success to secure for the local mine-workers decent up-to-date homes and other amenities. To perpetuate their gratitude to him for this public service the Council named one of the newly-built roads - McSparran Road.
In 1933 he was appointed to St. John's, Portugal Street, Glasgow. Here in the Gorbals of Glasgow, a district teeming with poorly housed working class folk, Fr. McSparran reached the supreme test of priestly fidelity to ceaseless parish work and Catholic diocesan representation in civic administration. Ten thousand parishioners taxed to straining point his personal supervision of every type of sodality, confraternity, and club to meet every age and temperament. His door and telephone calls at all hours each with its own story or regret received his never-failing help and encouragement. The second world war brought internal friction within the bounds of his parish and required great tact, good humour and firmness to smooth out difficulties and prevent disorder.
Appointed by His Archbishop to be Secretary of the Glasgow Archdiocesan Educational Board and as a member of the Educational Committee of Glasgow City Council he established himself as a well-informed, long experienced colleague and his friendly temperament and clever powerful mind won for him respect and warm admiration. His influence in no small measure contributed to the acceptance of the Catholic position and the present smooth-running administration of Educational law characteristic of Glasgow City Council.
But even Fr. McSparran's robust health and tireless vigour had to yield to the toll of the years and overstrain. Heart trouble set in and on the advice of his doctor and at the wish of His Archbishop he retired from St. John's in 1946 and became the first parish priest of Ardrossan, his birthplace, where he had said the first Mass at the opening of the newly-built, beautiful church of St. Peter-in-Chains.
His last years at Ardrossan were very happy ones. His health maintained its slight improvement. His mature mind quickly established parish unity and activity. He brought the Nursing Sisters of Mercy to Ardrossan, a great local boon. He suggested to Bishop Mellon of Galloway that West Kilbride be separated from Ardrossan as a separate parish and just before he died he saw this established.
In December, 1947, he was created by His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, a Domestic Prelate. Great was the joy of all his many friends. The parish and townsfolk's arranged a civic occasion to present him with his Monsignor Robes. The Provost and town Councillors were present and the big cinema overcrowded. The public enthusiasm was high and eloquent but the new Monsignor always retiring and reluctant of personal praise thanked his well-wishers for their very great generosity and kindness.
But early in 1949 his internal malady struck fiercely. His end was expected hourly but his strong will to live won, though for a year he was bedridden. He accepted God's will with characteristic simplicity. His mind was alert and vivacious to the very end. He never complained. He welcomed his priest visitors and all were surprised at his zest and enjoyment to discuss problems and parish plans.
God's call came rather quickly and almost unexpected on the Friday afternoon of March 10th. A word or two, a sharp pain and all was over within a few minutes. Obdormivit in Domino, prepared by the last Sacraments and willingly signing to God his long lease of priestly life.
This brief record of a priest, great in his generation, and a, leader of his people would be very incomplete if only retracing his life coram populo - Quid coram Deo? The answer is revealed in his love for his fellow priests and theirs for him. In all his parishes his church and altar were as perfect artistically and liturgicaliy as educated taste and limited means could provide. Always the best quality - hand-wrought if possible - always spotlessly clean and bright. His sermons were fatherly talks, earnest, sound and simply worded. Holy Mass, his Breviary and his Rosary, his many pilgrimages to many countries, to learn, always to learn more about the Church, the Faith. Thus did he practise his Religion, stalwart where duty called. Much in the world, but separated from it. Sympathetic but looking beyond it.
Physically he was a big man - above average in height and weight. A noble head, an open face, twinkling eyes and ready smile. His voice could thunder but quite deliberately, in rejecting falsehood, or exposing hidden peril. Laughter, rich and loud came easily and often and his memory was stored with many a delightful episode or incident in his long and varied intercourse with his fellow men. Harshness had no part in him, his strong convictions and swift tongue was tempered in warm good nature and Christian charity.
The sad news of his death brought to his funeral from every district of Scotland Bishops and Monsignors and Canons and over 150 priests, Lord Provosts and Provosts, County Councillors and officials, and a very large gathering of friends and parishioners, all of one mind and heart in sorrow and regard and affection. The Requiem Mass was sung by his cousin, Fr. John McSparran. Bishop Mellon of Galloway, presided. Bishop Black of Paisley was also in the sanctuary.
Ardrossan made his funeral a public occasion, shops closing, children from all schools lining the long route through the town to the cemetery, the Chief of Police personally directing the traffic and controlling the very long procession. It was the largest funeral the townsfolk could remember.
Thus did Church and State unite to honour the passing of a most worthy priest and a distinguished fellow townsman. The Rt. Rev. Mgr. McHardy, Provost of Galloway, took the graveside service. The brown earth of the newly-opened grave in the snow-covered cemetery marked out his mortal resting place. As the deep music of the Benedictus rang clear in the chill, dry air proclaiming God's blessedness of salvation, priest and people prayed for the soul of Fr. Archibald McSparran, who had served God without fear; in holiness and justice before Him all his days, who had giver knowledge of God's salvation to his people; ever striving to deliver them from the hands of our enemies and to direct their feet in the way of Peace. May he rest in peace.
The obituary below is from the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 17 March 1950.
Rt. Rev. Monsignor A. McSparran
It is with very deep regret that we record the death of Monsignor Archibald McSparran of St. Peter-in-Chains Church, Ardrossan, which took place of Friday of last week. The news of the passing of this well beloved Prelate has been received with grief not only by members of the church where he administered with great acceptance, but by sections of the community by whom he was held in the highest respect. The late Monsignor McSparran had many outstanding characteristics. He was a kindly man and he was a modest man; he was the happy possessor of a genial disposition and a fine sense of humour; he was a man full of zeal and enthusiasm for the service of God and his fellow man.
A native of Ardrossan, Monsignor McSparran gave long and faithful service to his Church. His first charge was at Dumbarton where he remained for 18 years. Thereafter, he served for short periods at Strathaven and Croy and was then transferred to Glasgow where at St. John's, Portugal Street, he did splendid work for several years. For health reasons he was transferred to Ardrossan in 1945.
During his life-time Monsignor McSparran also rendered very valuable service in the cause of education, having served on the Education Committees of Dunbartonshire and in Glasgow, and having acted while resident in Glasgow as Secretary to the Diocesan Education Board.
In December, 1949, His Holiness the Pope of Rome honoured this talented and popular priest by appointing him a Domestic Prelate, which Papal decoration conferred upon the recipient the title of Right Rev. Monsignor. This was, indeed, a high honour and was given as a mark of appreciation of distinguished services rendered on behalf of the Catholic Church.
To mark their satisfaction at the honour bestowed on Monsignor McSparran, the members of Saint Peter's Church made a presentation to Monsignor McSparran and, at an interesting gathering in the Lyric Cinema, he was presented with robes and a cheque. That gathering was presided over by the Rev. M Littleton and the presentation was made by Councillor James Dorrian. The gathering in the Lyric included the late Provost Cunningham and members of the Town Council. The pupils and staff of the Central School also honoured Monsignor McSparran and presented him with a set of Breviaries. Making the presentation, the headmaster Mr D. Scullion, paid tribute to the fine work Monsignor McSparran had done for education in Scotland.
Last Saturday night, over a thousand persons lined the route between the Presbytery and Church when the coffin was taken to the Chapel of St. Peter-in-Chains where it lay in state on Monday. Over a thousand people again were present at a short service held on Sunday evening and some fifteen hundred filed past the coffin on Sunday and Monday.
The funeral service was held on Tuesday morning. Rev. Father McSparran of Belfast, a cousin of the Monsignor, was Celebrant and Rev. Dr. Thomas MacLaughlin of Aberdeen was Deacon. Rev. Father McCarroll was Sub Deacon, and Rev. Father Brennan, from the Gorbals district of Glasgow, where Monsignor McSparran laboured for many years was M.C.
The Solemn Requiem Mass was presided over by the Bishop of Galloway, assisted by Monsignor Bohan and Monsignor McHardie who recited the prayers at the graveside. The Requiem Mass was sung by a choir of priests.
Also present in the Sanctuary were the Bishop of Paisley, Monsignor Rodgers, representing the Bishop of Motherwell, and Monsignor Ward, representing the Bishop of Glasgow who sent a message of sympathy and apology for absence owing to illness.
Other in attendance were Monsignor Trainer of Cardross College, Provost Beggs and members of Ardrossan Town Council, Sir Patrick Dollan, Councillor Taggart, Glasgow representing Dunbartonshire Education Authority, twenty-eight Canons representing every diocese in Scotland, and over one hundred and fifty priests, along with many local persons, personal friends of Monsignor McSparran.
In his panegyric, Dr. McLaughlin mentioned that Monsignor McSparran had been a priest for forty-two of his sixty-eight years. "To retrace the life path of these years," he said, "may not here now be lingered over. We must leave unsaid many details and aspects of this so outstanding personality, but your affection and mine may gain solace in recalling the living friend we knew, and the priest with whom we shared our glorious heritage of the Catholic Faith.
"As a boy, he raced the streets to school and Church in Saltcoats, and even then hoped one day to be a priest.
"How happy were his last years here - his revived memories of boyhood, his new interests and new friendships. How quickly you came to know and love your invalid, but ever active and cheerful new parish priest."
It was certainly the largest funeral in the town for many years, and the reverential demeanour of the people lining the streets was a beautiful tribute to the Monsignor's memory.
The children, too - the children whom he loved so well - stood with bowed heads outside Eglinton School and Ardrossan Academy, an at the roadside near the cemetery the pupils of the Central School were standing in the softly falling snow to pay final homage to their friend.